One-off championships are not for the faint of heart or those interested in pretty rather than gritty.
They are a time for work, hard work and a tough slog. And for all the goal-scoring histrionics of Toronto FC through the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs, the title game was about determination, hitting when necessary and playing hard.
Two-thirds of TFC’s holy trinity of excellence, along with Sebastian Giovinco, the American stalwarts were always in the thick of the fray Saturday night as the Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup — 5-4 on penalties — in front of a BMO Field record crowd of 36,045.
“I know Michael will be disappointed but at the end of the day it’s a penalty kick and if the keeper goes the right way and you just don’t get it there, those things happen,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “I thought he was fantastic for the whole game . . . he did what’s capable of doing for 120 minutes for our group and gave us a great chance to win the game.
In a game short on athletic brilliance, long passes into space, creativity on the run and workmanlike efforts were going to be the difference. The Sounders don’t let teams have much room to operate and they don’t go all out on the attack. It should not be a surprise that Altidore and Bradley were central to many of the evening’s big plays because they have been central to the renaissance of the franchise since they arrived in Toronto.
They have helped remove the bleak memories of the Jermaine Defoe “bloody big deal” signing, they have elevated a franchise that wandered sporting wilderness for most of its 10-year existence. It would have not been fitting had they not played significant roles on the biggest night in the team’s history.
Altidore also had a shot deflected inches wide in the first couple of minutes, had a Seattle attacker simply bounce off him as he broke up a play about 10 minutes later. He had the first half’s best scoring chance — a header that Seattle keeper Stefan Frei gobbled up — and shed a Sounder defender with something akin to a stiff arm while leading another break.
Altidore, named Friday as the 2016 player of the year by the USA soccer federation, almost destroyed Frei in a wicked collision during second- half stoppage time, one of the few even marginal scoring chances Toronto had in the defensive struggle.
Bradley, searching for the first major title of what is a storied career by any estimations, was imposing any time he was near the ball.
He had a blast at the Seattle net blocked early in second half and appeared to be caught a bit out of position. But he retreated the entire length of the field to disrupt one of the few legitimate Sounder threats.